Eat good meat: An anti-vegetarian argument.

My fellow apprentices and I learned about sheep butchery from Brandon Sheard, who came from Vashon and visited Betsey's farm. Good meat comes from small farmers who raise a small number of animals on pasture and do the slaughter and processing themselves.

 

Vegetarianism and then veganism have been increasing trends in our culture in the past few decades.  I recently heard an opinion that we are now entering a “post-vegetarian” culture where eating meat is now cool again, as long as it’s “sustainable” and “grass-fed” and (etc, other buzzwords).  I believe this is true, and I also believe it’s a good thing.  I understand that everybody makes their own personal decisions about these types of things, and if you’re veggie, that’s cool.  But I would like to present my thoughts on why vegetarianism might be unnecessary and maybe even counterproductive.

First of all, conscious vegetarianism can be great.  Blind vegetarianism is not conscious eating.  You’re in a bar in Washington state downing a plate of greasy nachos made from genetically modified, pesticide-laden corn shipped from Iowa topped with mysterious “cheese product” and hydroponically-grown, artificially-ripened tomatoes shipped from Florida, washing it down with a Diet Pepsi, but it’s okay because you’re not eating a cow?   Come on.  (Whew, there’s my crazy hippie farmer rant… got it out of my system… now I’ll settle down to logic.) (And, I eat bar nachos too.)

There are a variety of  reasons I’ve heard for being vegetarian.  One: You simply don’t like meat.  I can’t really argue with that one -  it comes down to personal preference – although I don’t really understand it as a person who loves eating food.  I love consuming food and that extends to as many different&new flavors and textures and eating experiences as possible.  Except beets.  I don’t really care for beets.  So I guess some people just don’t care for meat.  Okay, I’ll let you sneak by with that one.  Although maybe you haven’t had really good meat cooked really well.  :-)

Other reasons are given by the animal welfare-conscious: “I’ve seen the films and I know that millions of animals are suffering because of our demand to eat meat.”   And by the health-conscious:  “Meat is bad for you – it has fat and cholesterol and eating it will make me fat.”

Both statements are perfectly valid!  But is vegetarianism the logical conclusion?  Let’s talk about how these issues could be addressed.  Yes, one way is the straight-up elimination of meat from one’s diet.  But is this the only right answer?  Is this even *a* right answer?  My balance-craving mind thinks this is an inelegant & clumsy solution to the problem, swings too far in the opposite direction, and in fact is more like ignoring the actual problem instead of addressing it.  And of course, my food-loving palate rebels against the loss of such a large variety of potential edibles!  I would contend that both of the above arguments for vegetarianism are actually better answered by “practicing thoughtful meat-eating”: eating less meat and only that whose origins you know.

I should be careful to say that I myself am not practicing 100% what I preach here — not yet — but I have made steps in this direction and I have thought about what the ideal would look like.   So I don’t want to sound holier-than-thou; my committed vegetarian friends are awesome in that they have decided to take up a certain dietary policy for reasons that are important to them, and they have stuck to it.  I am only making an argument for a way of eating that I’d *like* to practice, not one that I’m currently living up to.

Be that as it may, let me try to convince you.

Yes, the animal cruelty issue is a HUGE problem.  Mass-produced, factory-farmed meat is a thoroughly disgusting proposition from start to finish.  It is completely understandable, and admirable, for an individual to take this problem to heart and cut meat out of their diet because they can’t stand to contribute to such an appalling system.   And a generation ago, this was probably the only course of action one could take.  But with the rise in sustainable meat production, I would argue that there is now another option and it is a *better* option for changing the system.  Here it is: Buy and eat good meat, and share it with your friends.  By so doing you will support a paradigm shift in the meat industry.

Why is this better than vegetarianism for animal welfare?  Well, I don’t think it is in question that people are going to continue to eat meat in this country.  A small portion of the population going vegetarian and eschewing meat entirely is not going to change this.  Animals are going to continue to be raised to become meat.  But *how* they are raised is the important part, isn’t it?  There are without a doubt better and worse ways to raise animals, and these result in better and worse meat.  People buy $0.40/lb ground beef and disgusting, water-injected Butterball “chicken” at Wal-Mart because they don’t know or don’t care about factory farming practices.  Also because this is what’s predominantly available.  You have to look a little harder to find the good stuff, and most people won’t take the time.  Because people buy this grocery store meat, there is a demand for it, and it continues to be produced following the same-old shitty practices.  But I believe that supporting alternative farming can start to change this.  There are small scale sustainable meat producers springing up all over, who raise their animals humanely and slaughter them with respect.  If enough people create a demand for this type of meat, it will start to become more prevalent and hopefully the demand for the other stuff will shrink.

What people who care about animal welfare can do is support the “good” producers by buying their meat.  Help these farmers to succeed and grow, and help more like them get started with small businesses.  More and more meat production can be moved away from the old system and into the new.  Share your “good” meat with your friends who still eat from Wal-Mart.  They will notice the difference.  This stuff is better both in terms of the life of the animal, and also in terms of the tastiness of the meat.  Dan Barber, the executive chef at a schmancy farm-to-table restaurant in NYC, gave a little talk to the young farmer conference I attended.  He talked about how lucky it is that “all the good things tend go hand in hand.”  Chefs’ main concern, he said, is deliciousness.  Sustainability is great, proper treatment of animals is great, but for a top chef it comes down to an amazing eating experience.  Luckily, he pointed out, the absolute best meat and produce taste-wise is also the best in terms of these other concerns.  When animals are raised in the most “natural” way possible (allowed to roam and eat the diet they would naturally eat), their meat, eggs, and milk are truly of a higher quality than those raised in confined, unnatural environments.  What makes them better can’t be completely described in terms of specific nutrients or qualities, but the whole is simply, unarguably better.  As more and more people realize that this is the case and start to make baby steps away from the scary factory food toward more “real” food, the demand will shift.  More and more animals will be raised in a manner that we feel comfortable with.  Support change by supporting practices you agree with.

Sure, “sustainable” and other keywords are losing their meaning through overuse.  How do I know if I’m eating “good” meat?  Is it because the package in the grocery store says “cage-free?”  No,  unfortunately not necessarily.  To really know, you have to get as close to the source as possible and learn a little bit about what to look for.

Look for heritage breeds.  I can tell you from personal experience that Cornish Cross chickens are scary and disgusting and have been bred almost out of recognition as a chicken.  But they are by far the most common breed of chicken meat you can find for sale.  Look for “pastured” – read Michael Pollan’s chapter on Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm for a much better explanation than anything I can write of why this is the best.  Basically it comes down to allowing the animals to live in something as close as possible to their natural habitat and eat their natural diet.  The results of this system include healthier animals, healthier land (fewer animals per acre->less damage), and healthier meat (Google for many studies on increased Omega-3′s, etc in grassfed meat).  This “good” meat is more expensive.  Why?  One: land is expensive and it requires more land  per animal.  Two: since the animal is not being fattened up on “junk food,” it takes longer for it to reach its slaughter weight on this natural diet and it must be cared for for extra weeks or months, incurring more expense.

So the farmers following the best practices do have to charge a higher price — a price that actually reflects the true cost of raising meat.  How to deal with the high price of good meat?  Eat less of it.  This has the added benefit of being better for your health.  Many reputable sources have suggested that a healthy way to approach meat as part of your meal is to think of it more as a side dish instead of the main (or only!) dish.  Eat a little bit of really good meat along with your veggies, and you’ll enjoy the yumminess without overdoing the animal fats or overextending your pocketbook.

There is no denying that an animal still has to die for me to be able to eat meat.  I can understand that some people may not be able to get over that fact.  But I found that for me, getting closer and closer to understanding the source of my meat has made it easier, not harder, to eat it.  It was awe-inspiring and an extremely valuable though unexpected part of my apprenticeship to learn a little about Betsey’s attitude toward meat.  She feels strongly that meat should be eaten with respect, and that you show respect for the animal and realize the full import of meat-eating by doing the slaughter and processing yourself.  She made a couple occasions available to us to help her and see the process.  Literally voicing your thanks to the animal for its life.  Learning the butchering procedures and then putting in the time to do them yourself.  It feels real when you eat venison after you skin a deer and and separate its haunch into cuts of meat, seeing how the muscles fit together.  It’s not at all like grabbing a shrink-wrapped package of stew meat from the grocery case.

Of course most people won’t have the inclination to learn butchery.  They won’t have time or space or desire to raise and slaughter their own animals.   Of course not!   The logical step is to buy meat from those awesome few who do want to devote their time to raising meat animals in a way you can feel comfortable with.  But how to you find these people, and how do you know that their practices are good?  My answer would be two words: farmers markets.  Ask around.   What you’re looking for is, who do the vegetable vendors buy their meat from?  I guarantee that most of the veggie farmers are not vegetarians.   They might point you to some meat vendors who are there at the market.  But I bet they also eat meat that doesn’t even make it to the farmers’ market — meat that their neighbor raises, down the street from their farm.  You can get in on that too, if you’re willing to give it a little bit of effort.  Food doesn’t have to come from Safeway.  Build a relationship with a farmer and you can get your food straight from the source.  You will know where it comes from and be able to more thoroughly enjoy and savor it in good conscience.

…. The End!

Also: lettuce!

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16 Responses

  1. Thanks for posting this! I love your view of meat eating and feel very much the same way! I’ve been moving this direction for years, but have been eating strictly “meat of known origin” since October and it has felt so right to me. You should read “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran-Foer. If you can’t get ahold of a copy, let me know and I’ll get you mine as soon as I can!

    Be Well!

  2. I’m not a vegetarian, but I agree that meat production and eating has a tremendous cost that is not apparent in the most consumers mind. http://www.imperfecteconomy.com/?p=477

  3. “Support change by supporting practices you agree with.” Goddamn, I am tired of hearing this. I’m a vegan and that’s exactly what I’m doing.

    You people need to stop romanticizing animal agriculture and patting yourselves on the back for picking the lesser of two evils.

    “Why give up slavery? Let’s just support those farmers who treat their slaves better!”

    • Hey, nice fellow, suppose you could show a little respect for whom showed you respect?
      First of all: It’s bullshit comparing meat-eating with slavery. I agree it is similar when animals are confined and etc (all the blah blah blah we know). Although, when the animal is allowed to live it’s natural way of life, how come it’s slavery? Because he will be killed in the end or because we use what he produces? Come on, that makes almost all animal life a slavery. “sobsobsob we are not like animals, we have a choice not to eat met” -> Yeah, so I have a choice to eat meat if I like! Who are you to deprive me of that choice? Who anyone is to deprive me? And also, vegetarian diets need, at least, three times more of what you consume with meat in order to live well. If everyone was a vegetarian, then we’d have an even bigger problem in deforesting!
      Also being vegan is a lie. Especially when you’re not a scientist trying to figure out how we can make syntethic what we obtain with the animal origins. Animal origin is everywhere, wheter you like it or not. And even if we found an alternitve (wich many have been found, I already know this) it’s more expensive than treating animals well and produces less. Take the whole world population’s need into consideration.
      Respect differences. NEVER EVERYONE will be vegetarian. And NEVER EVERYONE will eat meat. The point is, stop it with your utopia of non-animal eating place and stop feeling better to be a vegetarian/vegan. You’re not better than ANYONE. Because, HELLO, you’re actually not helping with lessening animal cruelty only by being veggie (and if you are doing something, congradulations! So am I! But not every plat-eater does, that’s, like she said, ignoring the problem).
      What came with vegetarians, and I find it fascinating, is products for vegetarian diets (like soy beef, for ONE example). That is awsome because it’s respecting differences. BUT most of the (big) companies that sell those products ALSO produce meat! You see? There will always be meat-eating, communists, capitalists, atheists, religious people e.t.c…. So stop offending and fighting for a never existing utopia (I know that’s the same thing), continue vegan/vegetarian, whatever you are and support conscientful breeding!

    • You’re absolutely right! It doesn’t matter how well you it dress up – the fundamentals of eating meat are cruel and very wrong, just like slavery.

  4. Hi Becky,

    Good post! I agree with you and with Betsey’s sentiments on eating meat with respect for the living being who lost its life to feed us. If a shark or a bear ever devours me, I hope it grants me the same respect ;) It’s the cycle of life and we should have awareness of its cost, work actively to minimize or eliminate the suffering involved, and have respect for its ecological necessity. Even vegetable and fruit farmers kill animals who devour their crops (an example of competition, rather than predation); let’s hope they also do so with respect and humanity (as a farmer, I know I make every attempt to).

    Another important argument for minimizing one’s consumption of animal products is the ecological efficiency argument. It takes approximately 10 times more resources to produce a calorie of energy from animal products than from plants. Therefore, you can feed fewer people on less land and fewer resources with plant-based diets. For a given person with an animal product based diet, the environmental impacts and resource consumption are far greater than a plant based diet, all else equal (especially when comparing traditional methods of agriculture). Of course, industrial agriculture throws this equation off balance. For instance, when you compare industrially produced plants with locally grown, grass-fed animals, animal products are probably far gentler on the environment and use fewer resources per calorie due to the fossil fuels required to grow the plants on industrial farms.

    This isn’t an argument for eliminating animal products from one’s diet, but just to minimize their proportion of one’s diet, which probably has health benefits as well. It’s also important to note that some people live in areas where it is all but impossible to grow most plant foods (e.g., deserts, coral atolls, some alpine regions), making it historically necessary to base their diet on animals. This is where the “eat locally” debate runs head on with the “eat low on the food chain” argument. In some places, it’s not really possible to do both.

  5. It’s a strange value system that maintains the notion that a taste is worth a life. When you kill, whether you kill ‘respectfully’ or not, you are taking the life of a living being. Only with the exception of obligate carnivores, does eating meat not devalue life and support and promote violence. It really doesn’t matter what any other sort of living being does…humans don’t require animal protein to live and killing some 10 billion animals every year in the U.S. is abhorrent and a disgusting statement about our values.

    • Yes, it’s terrible how most of the companies produce meat and not all that meat is necessary. But as I stated above, never everone will become a vegetarian. Also, the needs of everyone beacoming a vegetarian would be so huge compared to meat-eating that we would devastate the world faster.
      We are humans and we have a consience. Although, we are ALSO living beings and animals that need to eat “we don’t actually need to eat meat” -> As I stated before, the needs of a complete wolrdwide vegetarian diet would be too much. And actually, we do need to eat meat. We are OMNIVOROUS, we need to eat plants and meat. By becoming vegetarian we are forced to compensate for the meat that we don’t eat. That ain’t natural. But, we’re humans, right? We can do anything! If we can do that, we can treat animals better.
      And by the “level of consioucness” that the human is “obtaining”, soon it will be incoherent to eat plants as well! “They don’t have a nervous system” will become a petty excuse for god-knows-what reason.

  6. ‘Blind’ vegetarianism is better than someone trying to intellectualise killing animals for food. You have focused on the human, not the dying animal.

    • But why is it that as one animal among many in the Kingdom of Animals, humans have to be subjected to an artificial standard of ethics by denying our right to eat other animals for food? I can understand a person not feeling comfortable eating meat and completely respect that. But why should others who want to eat meat have to follow the same standard? I am not an “anything goes” relativist either. I believe reasonable standards of behavior can be established, I just don’t buy vegetarian moral argument as to why killing animals for food is fundamentally immoral.

    • Fuck the dying animal.how about you go ask a dying Buffalo how it feels while a lion gnaws at its bloody guts for Sunday dinner.if a human has pets and he dies alone at home,those pets may eat him.its the cycle of life.any organism can be food for another organism.how else would we transfer energy.just imagine if we had a world full of vegetarians…I Shake my head at that thought

    • Fuck the dying animal!!! how about you go ask a dying Buffalo how it feels while a lion gnaws at its bloody guts for Sunday dinner.if a human has pets and he dies alone at home,those pets may eat him.its the cycle of life.any organism can be food for another organism.how else would we transfer energy.just imagine if we had a world full of vegetarians…I Shake my head at that thought

  7. Alright I think I’ve heard enough.if you’re an atheist please don’t address this comment.in the book of genisis in the Bible it states that animals and other creatures were put here for man to rule over and use for our own good.that being said I don’t believe its wrong to eat meat.I don’t believe its wrong to kill an animal for consumption or any other reasonable use.personally I’m not a big meat eater but it has nothing to do with animal cruelty or health issues ect.I simply don’t like most meats.that being said,if you’re a vegetarian d

  8. Alright I think I’ve heard enough.if you’re an atheist please don’t address this comment.in the book of genisis in the Bible it states that animals and other creatures were put here for man to rule over and use for our own good.that being said I don’t believe its wrong to eat meat.I don’t believe its wrong to kill an animal for consumption or any other reasonable use.personally I’m not a big meat eater but it has nothing to do with animal cruelty or health issues ect.I simply don’t like most meats.that being said,if you’re gonna be a vegetarian do it because you like veggie or dislike meat. Same thing for carnivorous.do it because you like meat or dislike veggies.from a scientific point of veiw,everything consumes energy from somewhere wether its comming from another living organism(animals)or from the sun(plants).its the way of life.better yet,its the cycle of life and energy.who are we to stop it.just imagine how bad off ecosystems would be if living organisms stoped consuming other living organisms.unless our cells evolve to take energy from sunlight like plants(or something similar)we’d die.enough said

  9. Alright I think I’ve heard enough.if you’re an atheist please don’t address this comment.in the book of genisis in the Bible it states that animals and other creatures were put here for man to rule over and use for our own good.that being said I don’t believe its wrong to eat meat.I don’t believe its wrong to kill an animal for consumption or any other reasonable use.personally I’m not a big meat eater but it has nothing to do with animal cruelty or health issues ect.I simply don’t like most meats.that being said,if you’re gonna be a vegetarian do it because you like veggie or dislike meat. Same thing for carnivorous.do it because you like meat or dislike veggies.from a scientific point of veiw,everything consumes energy from somewhere wether its comming from another living organism(animals),or from the sun(plants).its the way of life.better yet,its the cycle of life and energy.who are we to stop it.just imagine how bad off ecosystems would be if living organisms stoped consuming other living organisms.unless our cells evolve to take energy from sunlight like plants(or something similar)we’d die.enough said

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